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Contactless Pilot Day 2

Monday was the last day of the Easter holidays so I went to North Greenwich with one of my sons.  I managed to test more features of the contactless operation, including inadvertantly missing a touch during one of the journeys.  I remain very happy with how it’s progressing so far.

As expected, when you touch on a reader connected to gates the display shows Enter or Exit, which is kind of comforting.  The lack of a balance or fare so far is still disconcerting to one who has so religiously checked these details when using an Oyster card, but I guess I’ll get used to it.  When we got to Lewisham we found a DLR train about to depart, and this is where I didn’t touch properly.  More on that later.

As I had my son with me and we were using Canary Wharf and North Greenwich tube stations with their expansive arrays of gates, I decided to test out how long the card needs to be held against the reader compared to an Oyster.  Sadly it does appear that a contactless payment card requires more time, though not as much as double.  In quiet times this won’t be a problem, but I can see it causing issues at busy stations and times.

While at the O2 we took a ride on the cable car, sorry, Emirates airline.  Thankfully I remembered that I needed to use my Oyster card for this journey, and more importantly, remembered to put it away again before starting the return home on the tube.

Crayford to North Greenwich is one of those journeys where two routes are equally likely to be used.  One involves travel via Woolwich Arsenal and Canning Town while the other uses Lewisham and Canary Wharf.  The Woolwich route avoids zone 2, so the default fare is a zone 3-6 NR+TfL fare.  As explained elsewhere, if you go via Canary Wharf using Oyster then you are sort-of overcharged one way because you touch out and in again in zone 2.  The reverse is ok because the touches in zone 2 happen before you get anywhere near zone 6.  Of course with contactless the charging is done after the event and with full knowledge of all the touches involved in the journey.  I was therefore curious to see how the journey would be charged.

A bout of insomnia meant I didn’t have to wait too long to find out.  At 3am the details had already been uploaded to the central database.  The first journey had been split into two because of the missed touch at Lewisham DLR.  I had hoped that they might be able to work out the gap, but the fact that the next touch was at a validator (so could be entry or exit) means they treated it as a new journey.  The ‘entry’ at Heron Quays was linked to the entry at Canary Wharf LU and thus charged as a simple zone 2 TfL journey ending at North Greenwich.  While this was frustrating, the extra charge of £1.50 was a lot less than the incomplete journey charge which would have appeared on an Oyster card.  The return journey was correctly charged at £2.30, even though I went through zone 2.  This is good because it means that it matches the single fare finder.

Alongside each entry on the history is a button to contact TfL about this journey.  I clicked this and explained how I’d missed the touch at Lewisham.  I sighed a bit when the confirmation screen said that they would get back to me within a week or so, however, just over 12 hours later I received a call from the contactless pilot helpdesk asking for my bank details so they could refund the £1.50 overcharge.  It appears that refunds can’t at the moment go back on the payment card, but that’s not really a problem.  I was also asked for any feedback, so I explained about the touch time being longer than an Oyster card.

All in all I’m quite impressed by how things are going at the moment.  I’ll still need to make a proper journey from Crayford to North Greenwich without forgetting to touch en-route, but the experiences of the dispute resolution far outweigh the disappointment that that journey didn’t work as planned.

19 Responses

  1. Re “The return journey was correctly charged at £2.30, even though I went through zone 2”, no, if you went through zone 2 then it was NOT correctly charged at £2.30.

    The fares (are supposed to) reflect the zones *you go through*, not just those of the stations at each end. It should have been £2.50 — and you should have only been refunded £1.30 worth of overcharge 🙂

    I suspect if you tried the same journey with an Oyster card, with its take-the-max-then-give-some-back way of working, it would have got your return journey right, at £2.50. (The single fare finder is clearly wrong in not showing that as an alternative route & fare).

    The more generally disturbing point (while acknowledging that paying less is always better than paying more :-), is that your report shows two cases (£2.30 vs £2.50, and the incomplete journey) where the contactless debit/credit card charged differently to the way an Oyster card would have, and that’s got to be sorted.

    So, when are you going to test exceeding maximum journey time? 🙂

  2. Hi Mac,

    Whilst I agree with what you are saying in principle, in this particular case you are not quite correct. In addition to the route via Lewisham which requires an intermediate touch there is also another route which doesn’t. This involves changing at New Cross and Canada Water. The Oyster system cannot tell the difference between that route and the one via Woolwich Arsenal so it errs on the side of caution and charges the zone 3-6 fare. They could charge more for the route via Lewisham and Canary Wharf, but they choose not to. I have now done the journey both ways without missing a touch and contactless charges £2.30 each way whereas Oyster charges £2.50 to North Greenwich and £2.30 the other way. As contactless matches the single fare finder I maintain that it is correct. I do understand why Oyster ‘overcharges’ and in this instance I don’t have a problem.

    I certainly do not agree that Oyster and contactless must charge in the same way, especially in regard to incomplete journeys. The back office processing for contactless allows permutations to be calculated which are outside the scope of the time allowed by a simple touch. Anything which reduces the chance of incomplete journeys being charged is a good thing. I would have a problem if contactless charged more than Oyster, but as yet I haven’t found an example of that.

    I’m sure I’ll put maximum journey times to the test at some point, but I don’t know when yet.

  3. If you go through Canada Water you are *supposed* to touch the pink reader 🙂

    Re the system not being able to tell the difference between that route (if you don’t touch the pink reader) and via Woolwich Arsenal, I’m not familiar with that station, I take it one can go between NR to DLR there without going through any gates then?

    Re “Oyster charges £2.50 to North Greenwich and £2.30 the other way”, sorry, you’re saying that with Oyster the exact same route is charged differently in opposite directions (outgoing vs return)?!? If so that’s just plain bonkers! And definitely wrong.

    Oyster and contactless *must* charge the same amount for the same journey, at the very least for a “normal” journey (without missing touch ins/outs, MJT, etc) — unless TFL is actually planning on promoting contactless cards as cheaper and having contactless vs Oyster fares.

    The case for abnormal journeys is a bit more moot, as one can always reclaim the amount overcharged over the (one and only!) correct fare. However, the average commuter is not going to know or care about back end processing or not, and is just going to be confused if they get different results from the two types of cards.

    And, hey, they *could* do the same post event back end processing for Oyster cards and automatically credit you next time you go through your designated favourite station 🙂

    But let’s not forget, that back end processing did not correctly sort out your situation, but still required you to call in (with it having come to the rather bizarre conclusion that you’d entered two stations one after the other, which I suspect it only did ‘cos the two are OSI’d), so in that sense it doesn’t matter, or rather, only matters temporarily, if the overcharge on abnormal journeys is a different amount — as long as after sorting out the overcharge you end up paying the same whichever cards you use.

    You say you’d have a problem if contactless charged more than Oyster, well I think there are many people, who don’t have (and maybe don’t want) contactless cards who would have a problem if it’s the other way round. That would be tantamount to Oyster users subsidising contactless customers….

  4. Hi Mac,

    As I typed Canada Water in I thought, he’s going to say pink reader!

    Pink readers are not compulsory and will never increase the fare paid when used between valid touches in and out. Yes, Woolwich Arsenal is just one station. I agree that when used correctly Oyster and contactless should charge the same, and I believe that the intention is that they will. My situation was as a result of incorrect usage so I shouldn’t expect it to be automatically sorted. It is sorted in a much more favourable way though, especially if I’d gone on to cap that day.

    The issue at the heart of our disagreement seems to be over a technicality in the way the Oyster system works. Between any two stations there is a default fare. This is based on TfLs understanding of the likely default route using as few interchanges as possible. In particular, if the most likely route involves switching between two stations where touch out and in will be necessary but a cheaper route exists which doesn’t require intermediate touches, the cheaper route will be the default. Sadly the system doesn’t describe the default route, probably because in many cases there are multiple options which can all be classed as the default. It does however describe alternative routes with different fares, sometimes cheaper and sometimes more expensive. If you use a route which is not the default but doesn’t require intermediate touches then it will be treated as the default. If you use a route which is not the default but does require intermediate touches and is not specifically described as an alternative then again the system will try to treat it as the default. The one caveat is that if an intermediate touch deducts more than the default fare for the overall journey you will not get it back. With Oyster it has to resolve multi-part journeys at each touch out because it doesn’t know whether the journey is finished until you touch in again or not. With contactless it does know the whole journey and can react accordingly. Should they define an alternative route between Crayford and North Greenwich via Lewisham and Canary Wharf? Possibly, but the ability to go via New Cross without touching makes it a little unfair. I certainly don’t want them to charge via zone 2 if I go via Woolwich Arsenal.

    Final point. They do sometimes refund differences after the event on Oyster. One example is travel between the North London line and the northern branches of the Northern line via Camden Town/Road or Kentish Town/West. This is due to a limitation in the way Oyster records interchange points.

  5. “Pink readers are not compulsory and will never increase the fare paid when used between valid touches in and out.”

    No Mike, I don’t believe that’s true. At least it didn’t used to be true, and, in fact, brings up another example where the (new) single fare finder has got it wrong.

    Not frequently but several times a year I’ll go from Forest Hill to Farringdon. There are two routes, the NR route, changing at London Bridge, and the TfL route, changing at Whitechapel. Both routes are charged at their respective zone 1-3 fares, so the NR route is £2.30/£3.20 off-peak/peak and the TfL route is (or at least, should be) £2.70/£3.20.

    Now, I prefer to go via LB, if the connections are convenient, but they’re often not so I’ll go via Whitechapel. BUT I soon learned after the first few times that if I DON’T touch the pink reader at Whitechapel it figures I’ve taken the NR route and charges me the cheaper NR fare (off peak) than if I DID touch the pink reader there, when it charges the more expensive TfL fare. That’s a prime example of a pink reader increasing the fare.

    But actually, the story doesn’t end there, ‘cos as when I do go to Farringdon I often (but not always) depart from FH around 6.30pm, and 4-7pm into zone one is off-peak for TfL but peak for NR, in that case I go via Whitechapel and DO touch the pink reader to get the at-that-time-of-day cheaper TfL fare 🙂

    Now, the old single fare finder gave three routes (and pairs of prices). The NR route, the TfL route, and the always-too-expensive NR+TfL route.

    Check out the new single fare finder for that journey. According to that there is no TfL fares, only NR and NR+TfL ones, so if you travelled from FH to Farringdon, via Whitechapel (touching the pink reader), would you say that £3.20 is the “correct” fare ‘cos that’s what the single fare finder says?

    I’m not sure I understood all the convolutions of the rest of your explanation, and I’d say the system is actually much simpler to understand than that (in principle and bugs notwithstanding!):

    You are (or, at least, should be) charged by the zones you travel through. Simple as that, with the one exception being that some journeys are defined as going through zone one no matter what route you take.

    There are cases where you can get away with less, simply because there is no evidence that you did otherwise (as in the going through New Cross example). Touching at Heron Quays/Canary Wharf is not one of those, it is absolute evidence that you went through zone 2, and clearly Oyster thinks so ‘cos it charges you the £2.50 — at least in one direction!

    There are obviously bugs to be sorted out, and that includes some of the info in the new single fare finder.

  6. OK, we’re not going to agree. Forest Hill to Farringdon is an interesting one. I wonder if the TfL fare was removed because it is more expensive off-peak? I’m going to do some digging on that one.

  7. Mike, but you’ve already agreed with my core point 🙂

    Being that, in your words, when used correctly Oyster and contactless should charge the same. And you’ve also said that Oyster charges £2.50 for Crayford to North Greenwich via HQ/CW.

    So, either you agree that contactless should also charge £2.50, or you think that the Oyster fare is wrong. However, I’ll bet (not really a betting man, but anyway… 🙂 that you haven’t reported the Oyster fare to TfL ‘cos you know that the fare structure is that you pay for every zone you went through, and as such £2.50 is the correct fare for that route. (A different price for the return is just plain quirky, but as it’s cheaper I understand why you don’t report that :-).

    And not only is £2.50 correct by the every-zone-traversed policy, it’s just plain common sense. Look at it this way: if you went just from Crayford to Heron Quays it’d cost £2.50, but you seem to be saying that, if you then *continue on* from there, TfL should, in effect, give you a rebate and charge you a negative fare for that *further onwards use* of their services!

    Any fare policy has to be understandable, predictable, and consistent, and that case not only isn’t, but also fails the common sense test.

    Are there any other OSIs where continuing on is cheaper than just staying in the area?

    P.S. Re the Farringdon case, my real points were (a) that pink readers DO sometimes increase the fare paid, and (b) that you shouldn’t take as gospel (or necessarily “correct”) what the new single fare finder says, as it’s got bugs!

    Forest Hill to Farringdon *Underground* Station is one example, with it showing a 1600 to 1900 peak fare when into-zone-one is off peak on TfL at those times.

    Another (related) example is New Cross Gate to Farringdon *Rail* Station, where it shows NR fares but with 1600 to 1900 as off-peak!

    Also look at the confusion of “New Cross Gate Rail Station” vs “New Cross Gate ELL Rail Station”, with the former having the LO icon and the latter having only the NR icon!

    Now there’s some things to report… 🙂

  8. Hi Mac,

    It could be argued that using Oyster via Heron Quays and Canary Wharf is not technically using it properly as that is not the default route (via Woolwich Arsenal). It just so happens that TfL have declined to program a fare via that route which means that you are free to use it as long as you can complete the journey within the maximum journey time. The penalty in one direction for using an unintended route is that it will charge more, but as we both agree, the charge does match the zones travelled through. It’s probably wise that you aren’t a betting man because I did have a conversation with the helpdesk the first time I made a similar journey. That was when they explained how it all worked.

    I should think there are many other examples where this can happen with OSIs. They key point is that an OSI only does two things. Firstly it joins together two parts of a journey into one, and secondly it logs the via point for later use. At the end of the journey the via point is only used if it is relevant as an alternate fare between the original origin station and the destination. With Oyster the system has to assume that you’ve finished every time you touch out in case you really have. Contactless doesn’t have the same constraint as it can see all the touches making up the one journey.

    Onto the pink readers. I have been trying to work out scenarios where using one might increase the fare charged. So far I have failed. The Forest Hill to Farringdon example is a good one which I hadn’t considered, because rather than avoiding zones it is signalling using a different fare structure. I’m guessing that the TfL-only fare was removed from the database precisely because zone 1-3 is a rare example where the TfL fare is more expensive at times. Normally it is the NR fare which is more expensive, especially if zone 1 is not included. The downside is that you may not be able to get the evening peak concession because of this, but that is something I want to test.

    I already know that the single fare finder database isn’t exactly the same as the live database because there are several unusual fares missing. However, if you make one of those journeys it does charge the correct amount. You’ll read about which ones I tried in the next installment, which I hope to post shortly if I get the chance.

    And yes, there are lots of issues with the single fare finder having different names for the same station. Some of these have already been fixed so it looks like it is a work in progress.

  9. LOL! Well Mike, I think most Londoners would reject the idea that taking anything other than the “default” route is not “proper” use of the transport system! Esp. as the “default” route isn’t always either the cheapest, the fastest, or the most convenient – and in some cases not all three. As it seems you often use non-default routes I guess you must think so too 🙂

    I do wonder if there are, indeed, other cases where this happens with OSIs, or if it’s just a this-case quirk. But in any case, I think you overstate the supposed “constraint” of Oyster cards. While it may not know at the time of your exit that you’re about to also make an OSI entry, by the end of the journey it has had all of the same information as the post processed contactless system. Indeed, it has to have in order to charge you the right end-to-end fare.

    As such, there’s no logical reason why, if £2.30 were the “correct” fare for that route, it couldn’t put 20p back on the card so that £2.30 was what you were actually charged. After all, when you touch in at Crayford it whacks, what?, £5.10 off of the card, and when you touch out at HQ is puts £2.60 back on, so it could put an additional 20p back on at NG. It has all of the information to do so, should it want.

    Re the Single Fare Finder and Farringdon, I just don’t buy that they’ve purposefully removed the TfL fare because it’s more expensive (at times). That theory doesn’t explain why for New X Gate to Farringdon the SFF has invented the new concept of an NR rate *with no evening peak*, nor does it explain why it shows a flat TfL fare (£2.20 anytime vs £2.30/£1.80) for London Bridge RAIL STATION (both of them!) to Farringdon, something you can’t actually do on TfL!

    So, I think my theory is *much* more likely: the SFF’s Farringdon data is just plain bollixed up 🙂

  10. Lol!

    I didn’t say that anything other than the default route is not proper. Any alternative route programmed in the database is also proper. As it happens I agree that it should be able to put the 20p back on, but there is obviously some commercial constraint which rules that once taken by the system money can’t be refunded. Also, you want another example of different fares each way – try this:

    Load a travelcard from zone 2-x where x is any higher zone. Then travel from New Cross to Cannon Street and Bank to Oxford Circus in the peak. It’s a NR+TfL through fare but with the travelcard covering zone 2 you should only be charged the TfL zone 1 fare of £2.20. However, if your touch out in zone 1 is at a NR station then it will first deduct the NR zone 1 fare. In the peak that is £2.30 which does not get refunded.

    Now Mac, you’re clutching at straws with Farringdon. Between Elephant & Castle or London Bridge and West Hampstead the Thameslink line is classed as TfL, so £2.20 anytime is the correct fare from London Bridge to Farringdon. As for New Cross Gate, perhaps that is what should happen at Forest Hill as well. Maybe it does. I’ll hopefully be testing that out soon.

  11. Yes you did Mike, you said “is not technically using it properly as that is not the default route”. Now saying that any alternative route programmed in the database is also proper just validates my point about it failing the understandable, predictable, and consistent tests. The vast majority of people don’t know (and don’t care) about what’s “programmed in the database”.

    Re LB, yes, I’d forgotten that stretch of NR is a “green” route for Oyster.

    Ok, try the SFF on Denmark Hill to Farringdon. A whole plethora of options — including the ones that from FH and NXG *should* have: via Whitechapel, Shadwell or Canada Water. But while those are TfL fares, it shows them as charging PEAK rate 4-7pm, even though it’s into-zone-1.

    But you know what, it’s not just to Farringdon. Try Denmark Hill to Barbican, or Aldgate East, or Bank. They all also show as charging TfL peak rate between 4-7pm.

    So, what do you make of that? That they’re scrapping the into-zone-1 evening peak concession for the ELL?

    Or possibly, just possibly, that the SFF is just plain bollixed up 🙂

  12. OK, I’ve read back and found that I edited out the bit about alternate routes while trying to make it read easier. What I meant to say was that if a route isn’t explicitly described and also isn’t the intended default route then it could be deemed not using it properly. You can do it, but it’s at your own risk if it charges more.

    I don’t know what I make of the issues with Denmark Hill. It just goes to prove how complicated the fares structure is and how much easier it would be if TfL were in charge of setting all fares within the travelcard zones. I still don’t think that I’d say that the SFF is broken unless the reality of what is charged turns out to be different.

  13. TfL *is* in charge of setting the fares between Denmark Hill and Barbican, or Aldgate East, or Bank via Whitechapel. That’s LO + LU, all TfL.

  14. Yes, I know. But the interaction between fares set by them and those set by ATOC on behalf of the London TOCs makes it far too complicated. I want TfL to set all London area fares and just pass revenue share to the individual TOCs. That way you can have a simple truly zonal structure.

  15. You and Boris alike. He said the same when he did Mayor’s Question Time in Lewisham (which was actually held in Catford), even claiming it’d be cheaper when TfL did it — and immediately got barracked and heckled ‘cos Lewisham is spread across zones 2, 3 & 4 and, of course, fares to and from zone 1 are cheaper with NR than with TfL.

    I have no problem with TfL taking over prices — as long as they lower the TfL zone 1 to 2/3/4 fares to the red route NR fares. I’m sure the rest of the zone 2/3/4 South Londoners would agree with me 🙂

  16. Thankfully I’m zone 6 and would really appreciate lower fares to anywhere outside zone 1. But hey, I’m not saying it would be easy and might require some TfL fares to be increased to balance out the revenue. And isn’t Catford where the London Borough of Lewisham is based? Certainly the Lewisham which is spread across zones 2, 3 & 4 must be the borough rather than the town.

  17. Yes, Catford is in the London Borough of Lewisham.

  18. I’ve only just read this conversation and have also done Forest Hill to Farringdon, which has been the NR fare via LB as default, being the cheaper off-peak fare for the majority of the time, although the morning peak fare is exactly the same since Jan 2014 regardless if travelling via LB or Whitechapel.

    I haven’t tried the evening peak fare from FH, which should be £2.70 if travelling via Whitechapel. The Single fare finder is only showing the NR fare as default, so may be worth contacting TfL to correct this as it should be at least a pink reader job to correct.

  19. Hi Martin,

    I’ve noted this one to investigate further. I’m not sure how easily they can mix between fare-scales depending on time of day.

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